It was a day in July 2002. Sweat dripped down my back. My hands were damp. I was sitting in the file room of Eastern Social Welfare Society (ESWS) in Seoul, South Korea. My social worker had just handed me a small sheet of paper. You know the type. The “grade school” paper. The ones with the widely spaced horizontal lines kids once used to learn how to write. My eyes scanned it. Moving from left to right. Taking in the thoughts expressed in big, blocky letters. The words were written in English, not Korean, the native tongue of the writer. Clearly, the boy had forgotten his original language.
The note ended happily:
“I love you. See you soon, Mom.
For a brief moment, I was the grade school kid again, who had written that letter. I was the kid, who, upon receiving no response, felt the deep, dark, cutting pain of abandonment, rejection, and grief. My hands shook. My chest heaved. My vision blurred from tears. About a week later I discovered that my mother had passed away a year and a half after I left South Korea. The long shadow of abandonment, rejection, and grief changed; it didn’t leave when I came to terms with my adoption.
Abandonment. Rejection. Grief. These three words are frequently tossed around in the adoption community, but for me they are not so easily definable. Nevertheless, I know how abandonment, rejection, and grief feel. I understand their power. I recognize how difficult it is to not be overpowered and crippled by them. I’ve witnessed their seductive qualities; for much of my pre-teen and teenage years, abandonment, rejection, and grief painted for me an attractive, yet unhealthy landscape of blinding internal rage and hurt, irrational perceptions of self, and unaddressed depression. Abandonment, rejection, and grief once owned me. No longer. I’ve learned control. I combine abandonment, rejection, and grief with desire, hope, confidence, and a healthy dose of self-deprecation. This mix is the fuel behind the work that I do through Land of Gazillion Adoptees. The mix is what gives me the drive to play my small role in elevating and amplifying the voices of adult adoptees.
Generally, I prefer not to get this personal because, contrary to popular belief, I’m a private person. Other adoptees, however, are prodding me to explain myself to the community, to talk about my motivations. I also prefer not to address internal conflicts within the adoptee community for all to see, but, after some thought, I’ve come to the realization it’s time to discuss some stuff. Just in the past few months alone, a handful of adoptees have made statements about Land of Gazillion Adoptees and me that are absolutely untrue.
I’ve been accused of plagiarizing another adoptee’s work and talking ill of said adoptee at the Joint Council presentation I did with Vietnamese adoptee Bert Ballard this past spring. False. I have witnesses.
I’ve been accused of leaving out certain, key individuals from important conversations. Misleading. The folks making this charge flat-out said no to me when I asked them this past spring to attend the July meeting with congressional staff and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI).
I’ve been accused of “stealing” the adoptee citizenship issue from others. More than that, I’ve been accused of writing an amendment for the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA) that purposely leaves out the likes of Russell Green. Neither of these is accurate. The adoptee citizenship conversation has been going on for years and has been pushed by a number of individuals and organizations; we all own “adoptee citizenship”. Additionally, there’s a team behind the amendment for the CCA. Another member of this team has done most of the writing, and the names of folks like Russell have been frequently mentioned in our talks.
The list goes on.
Honestly, I’m not sure why these accusations are being made, especially since there’s ample evidence to refute all of them. Perhaps certain individuals feel underappreciated for all of the work that they’ve done. And if that is the case, I would wholly understand. Many of us have been there.
At the same time, I’m sure of this. Dominant groups appreciate infighting within subordinate communities, and we adoptees have repeatedly fallen into this self-created trap right before we make leaps in progress. So, as all of us witness what can only be described as the beginnings of the new “adoptee revolution”/“adoptee renaissance”, the simple, yet complicated question we need to ask ourselves is: Can we own this together?
A couple of days ago my four-year-old son and I went out for burgers, onion rings, fries, apple juice, and beer. The meal was our last before my wife and daughter returned from a mini-vacation. It was disgustingly fabulous; we enjoyed ourselves. Walking out, my son declared, “That restaurant was fun!” Indeed. With that said, my son and I had a particular moment during that dinner. My son, who generally reserves his affections for his mother, looked directly into my eyes and asked,
“Papa, can you sit by me?”
Smirk. “Ah, why?”
Pause. “Please don’t ever leave me, Papa.”
Shock. “I’ll never leave you.”
Abandonment. Rejection. Grief. I thought about my mother for a few minutes after my son went back to eating his fries. I wondered how devastating the mix of abandonment, rejection, and grief must have been for her. I, for a moment, shared the deep, dark, cutting pain she must have lived with after placing me, whom she had lovingly raised for six and a half years. I empathized with her. And through empathy I obtained a glimmer of understanding.